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Forget everything you learned at college parties. Tequila is serious business and a very sophisticated drink if treated properly. Sure, it will make you sloppy and hungover if you don’t know these rules. Read and learn, darlings.
1. True tequila doesn’t have a worm in the bottle: Perhaps your friendly neighborhood dive bar still operates in clichéd liquor land, but quality tequila doesn’t arrive with a worm. This creature in the bottom of the bottle originated with tequila’s “lower-quality” relative, mezcal. The weevil worm is a true pest that will invade and destroy any tequila plants, but none of these mezcal worms will end up in the bottle unless some enterprising bartender pops one in for fun.
2. Tequila comes from a blue agave plant, not a cactus plant. Agave plants take about 8 years to mature and often weigh hundreds of pounds.
3. The heart of agave plants contains aguamiel or “honey water,” which is the syrup used to produce tequila. Also known as piña, the heart can weigh up to 200 pounds when fully mature. The heart is stripped of leaves and cooked. Then the sap is fermented and distilled.
4. The “coa” is a machete used to chop agave leaves and expose the all-important heart of the plant. The workers who wield the coa are called “jimadors.”
5. Drinking tequila doesn’t automatically cause a hangover, but hangovers aren’t out of the realm of possibility. Try and stick with the “silver” varieties because the “gold” types are more likely to result in next-day anguish. Also, mixing tequila with sugar mixers or other liquors will more likely result in a headache. If you indulge in pure 100% agave tequila, you’re usually safe in moderation.
6. Actor Bill Murray’s favorite liquor is tequila. He believes it keeps the energies up. Look at the man! He must be correct. If you happen to visit SXSW one year and find him behind a bar, he will serve you tequila no matter what you order.
7. Your favorite shot glass is probably all wrong for drinking tequila: If you’re using a short, fat shot glass, get rid of that sucker. The proper, traditional way to enjoy tequila is to use a caballito (i.e., “little horse,” “pony”), which is a tall and narrow shot glass. There’s a good reason why tall over short is best …
8. Tequila should be experienced using all of the senses, not merely taste. You should enjoy the smell before drinking. With the glass below the nose, there should be three distinct smells (bottom, center, and top).
9. The “feel” of tequila is also quite important. When tequila is harsh, it makes the tongue feel warm. When it’s smooth, the tongue feels softness. Neither smooth nor harsh is automatically superior, but individual taste dictates which variety is preferable.
10. If your bottle of tequila doesn’t state “100% de agave,” there’s a good chance it contains fermentable adjuncts, i.e., “vodka.” Jose Cuervo is notorious for cutting its tequila with vodka to cut down costs. Your friendly liquor store employee can usually point you in the direction of a relatively inexpensive yet quality tequila.
11. Sophisticated tequila aficionados don’t even mess around with shot glasses. They usually sip their tequila from a brandy snifter. This allows the agave’s flavors and aromas to be savored with time.
12. Tequila production is very strict and must meet several criteria: (1) It must be made from blue agave, which must be harvested only in the Mexican state of Jalisco or designated areas of the states of Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, or Michoacan; (2) Tequila must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol by volume; and (3) All labels must read “Hecho en Mexico” (made in Mexico).
13. The type of tequila from the Jalisco lowlands gets its taste from two things: (1) Aging time in white oak barrels; and (2) An acquired taste from the region’s volcanic soil, which adds a spicy and earthy quality.
14. Contrary to myth, tequila does not contain psychedelic properties. But tequila’s less classy cousin, mezcal, can be confused with mescaline, which is peyote’s psychoactive alkaloid.
15. Tequila can be turned into diamonds, for real. Physicists at the (very real) National Autonomous University of Mexico have harvested synthetic diamonds from the liquor. Sadly, they’re tiny stones and very expensive to produce.
16. An unopened bottle of tequila can survive for years. Once you open a bottle, it only lasts a few months before the agave profile is destroyed through oxidization and evaporations. At about 3-6 months, an opened bottle takes on the profile of a bourbon.
17. Ancient tequila was made using the “tahona” process that used a heavy volcanic stone wheel to crush the agave fibers, which were then placed into pine wood barrels for fermentation. The Patron brand of tequila still uses this labor-intensive method, which requires about 60 hands to produce a single bottle.